A government minister will call today for a huge expansion of Britain's nuclear power in what he predicts could be a �20bn economic bonanza that will create 100,000 new jobs and benefit the economy as much as North Sea oil.

In an ambitious speech that will alarm the anti-nuclear lobby, John Hutton, the business secretary, will argue that the UK's nuclear programme should go beyond replacing the existing stock of 23 reactors, which provide 20% of the country's energy. Instead nuclear should contribute "a significantly higher proportion" of the nation's energy needs in the years ahead, and Britain should aim to become a world leader in the development of nuclear power technology. He will argue that replacing the existing reactors will be equivalent to investment "three times the size of the project to build Terminal 5 at Heathrow", but that the economic benefits could be far greater if Britain went further.

Business secretary John Hutton has called for a "significant expansion" in Britain's nuclear power industry. In a speech to the Unite trade union, he argued the industry should go beyond replacing its 23 ageing reactors, which provide 20% of the UK's electricity. He called for the creation of a £20bn industry with 100,000 new jobs - making the UK "the gateway to a new nuclear renaissance across Europe".

It comes as the President of France - a world nuclear leader - visits the UK. Mr Sarkozy is due to discuss nuclear cooperation when he meets Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Nuclear energy provides about 79% of France's energy. French energy giant EDF is among the private firms poised to build a new generation of reactors in the UK after the government came out in favour of nuclear energy in January.



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